For some West Islanders, it's not the most wonderful time of the year.
For those who can't afford to heat their homes, must regularly scrounge for every meal or forgo winter coats or boots for their children, the holiday season is just another reminder of how hard their lives are – and instead of giving gifts at Christmas, the West Island's low-income residents must rely on Christmas baskets from local charitable organizations to bridge the gap between what they can afford and what they'd like to put on the table.
"It's really hard this time of year," for low-income West Islanders, West Island Assistance Fund (WIAF) executive director Claudine Campeau said. "It’s very hard on our clientele, who want to be able to have a special meal or something, but it's very hard for them," she said.
Most of the Roxboro-based West Island Assistance Fund's clientele is on some form of social assistance and most wouldn`t be able to make ends meet at all if it weren`t for the WIAF food bank – let alone make a special meal to celebrate Christmas or watch their child open a toy on Christmas morning.
"We are always looking for new toys for children," Campeau said. "Up until (last Wednesday morning), we thought we wouldn't be able to do the toys this year, but a lady came in with three big bags of toys, so we'll be able to make it happen this year. I was in tears. I was so happy. I couldn't believe it," she said, adding the agency is taking donations of new, unused toys in the packaging up until Friday. Donors interested in making the holiday more magical for needy kids should contact Campeau at 514-683-0456 or simply swing by the WIAF offices at 13 Commercial Centre in Roxboro.
"We're still looking for toys for kids aged from zero to four years," she added. The agency will give out over 1,000 Christmas food baskets this year – a roughly five-per-cent increase from last year.
Another local food bank is experiencing similar increases in demand.
West Island Mission operations director Wendy Gariepy said West Islanders' generosity is great but they need to be cognizant there are some needy families here – and every cent helps.
"If everybody could just do a little more, we could help so many more people," Gariepy said.
"We're doing 271 baskets this year, and (On Rock Ministries) will be doing 160 – and it's all different families," Gariepy said, adding the local Christmas-basket distributors cross-check their lists to make sure everyone who needs one, gets one. Of those 271 baskets, 212 will be going to low-income families with a total of 480 children. That's a 30-per-cent increase over last year, Gariepy confirmed.
"It's a huge increase," she said. "We're happy to do it, but we do need the food to put in the baskets." This year, the West Island Mission will hand out baskets Saturday at Westview Bible Church in Pierrefonds. Donors interested in getting involved can sponsor a turkey for $20 (financial donations over $20 will be issued a tax receipt) or donate non-perishable food. Food can be dropped off directly at Westview Bible Church on Fri., Dec. 7 (16789 Pierrefonds Blvd. – corner of St. Charles) or contact the West Island Mission at firstname.lastname@example.org or 514-912-6813 to arrange a drop-off.